A generation without a cause beyond themselves.
That's how I've described our nation’s young men and women in recent years.
I assumed their perspective and their resolve wouldn't change.
Yet I was wrong. It already has.
September 11, 2001 will go down in history not only as the worst terrorist attack on the US mainland, but also as a major catalyst for transforming "Generation X."
That transformation may hold the promise of our future.
The fabric of our lives is the sum of all of our experiences. Thinking back about what shaped the person I am provides a revealing perspective.
As a young child I recall many sleepless nights reliving images of storm troopers herding my grandparents into concentration camps. Not long after entering grade school I became aware of the stark reality of the Cold War and communism threatening our future. Racial discrimination and the quest for civil rights tore at our souls in the early 60s with indelible images of lynchings in the south and cross burnings by the Klan. The Cuban missile confrontation had us huddling close anticipating our last days on earth. The assassination of a President and later his brother caused many to challenge the very core of their belief system. Israel’s 6-day war seemed to herald Armageddon.
We were always immersed in a cause. Women’s rights and environmental protection often sparked more than just heated debates. High school culminated with the burning of Watts, Harlem and Newark. Early college years were filled with campus unrest, daily protests and riots. The Viet Nam war brought friends home in body bags.
By 1973, America, beaten back with unjustifiable losses in an inexplicable war, changed. The cold war progressively simmered, our resolve for military involvement abroad quickly dwindled, and the Berlin Wall finally fell.
Our priorities suddenly shifted.
We set forth to raise our children in economic prosperity, and we consciously limited our vista and our actions against world terrorism and human suffering. While many countries continued to experience turmoil, life in the US settled in many ways. Despite multiple attacks and battles abroad, and even the Gulf War which lasted less than a season’s soap opera, our youth grew up unattached. Our government's stand and our limited military involvement perhaps fostered that detachment. Life, for us as a nation, simply went on while many nations of the world continued to endure the unthinkable.
In recent years accounts of atrocities in Bosnia and Afghanistan fell on practically deaf ears. World consciousness and preservation of basic freedoms progressively became less worthy issues.
And our children grew up isolated from the painful challenges that brought us together as a nation so many times in years past. Often critically stereotyped as "Generation X," they’ve not surprisingly been described as disengaged from the workings of America.
In August 1999, Ted Halstead, president of New America Foundation in Washington, DC characterized the post Baby Boomer generation as follows: "As they enter adulthood, this explanation goes, Xers are facing a particularly acute economic insecurity, which leads them to turn inward and pursue material well-being above all else. They see the outlines of very real problems ahead - fiscal, social, and environmental. But in the nation's political system they perceive no leadership on the issues that concern them; rather, they see self-serving politicians who continually indenture themselves to the highest bidders. So Xers have decided, for now, to tune out. After all, they ask, what's the point?"
Now they know first hand, and they are forever changed. We see it in their eyes and sense it from an unforgettable point within ourselves. It's a stark break from discussions about the latest designer clothes, who's dating who, and the hottest MP3 site on the net.
We're now witnessing an incredible spark of depth and character emerging from a generation that will never allow itself to become disconnected again. And our sense of purpose is renewed as well.
Frankly I'm not surprised. Historical recounts of pain and suffering have little impact on a nation’s youth that has never experienced the forces that tore at the fabric of our formative years.
Yet now they’ve seen it with their own eyes. They've sensed the insecurity and unrest that make liberty and the pursuit of happiness so much sweeter. They've realized the uncertainty of tomorrow beyond the purely monetary realm. And they will take a stand that will enable us to build intergenerational unification.
This is our chance to encourage them, not as a token of involvement, but rather as a partnership to make a permanent and positive difference. This is our chance to embrace them - not only as our children but as citizens responsible for our world’s survival. This is our chance to welcome them back - not as an inexperienced generation, but rather as a vital and fresh force that will strive to eradicate bigotry, hatred and terrorism from our planet.
These are our future leaders, forged in the reality of challenging, uncertain and painful times. Thomas Paine summed it up best, "These are the times that try men's souls ... Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as Freedom should not be highly rated."
Let us strive together to preserve that freedom ... as one intergenerational nation under God - Mind Over Matter!
©2001 Barry Bittman,
MD all rights reserved